Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Predators Eclispse Edmonton 3-1

The Nashville Predators defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in a game that at times featured surgical precision by the Predators, at times was workmanlike, and at times was frankly tedious. With the win, the Predators ran their record to 39-25-10 and are tied with Los Angeles for 5th with 88 points.

The Predators opened the scoring at 4:08 of the first period as Joel Ward drew the defense and Edmonton netminder Devan Dubnyk to him as he drove the net. Ward slipped a beautiful pass to Martin Erat who buried a shot into the open net to put the Predators up 1-0.

That score was significant for the Predators because in their previous losses to the Oilers they had poured shots on the Edmonton net but had not been able to solve Dubnyk. Scoring first lifted the onus of not scoring off the Predators and built their confidence. They now knew they could score against Dubnyk, and more importantly, put the struggling Oilers in an early hole.

The Predators continued to pressure the Oilers, and with Kurtis Foster in the box for tripping, made them pay on the power play. Patric Hornqvist took a nice drop pass from Sergei Kostitsyn and banged a puck off the post and into the net at 7:40 of the first period to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.

The Predators played an excellent first period of hockey, firing 15 shots at Dubnyk, while Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne was hardly tested as the Oilers were only able to muster 5 shots on goal.

In the second period, the Oilers came out with more jump and controlled the puck on the cycle for lengthy stretches in the period. The Predators defense did a good job of keeping the Oilers to the perimeter and rarely allowing good scoring chances, but the Oilers were controlling the puck. For Predator fans, there was concern about the lack of offensive push.

That would change at 13:00 of the second as David Legwand took a stretch pass from Ryan Suter and drove the low slot. Legwand lifted a backhand that beat Dubnyk high glove side to give the Predators a 3-0 lead on their first shot of the second period.

Edmonton cut the deficit to 3-1 on the power play. Sergei Kostitsyn took a lazy tripping penalty at 8:45 of the second. Andrew Cogliano fired a shot from the low slot that Rinne kicked out with his right pad, but the rebound came right to Jordan Eberle who buried the shot at 9:38.

In the second period, the Oilers outshot the Predators 7 to 5, with each team able to tally a goal. Although the Predators had a 2 goal lead, it was going to be important to come out and control play in the third period and capture the victory and the all important 2 points.

The Predators did just that. Edmonton did not record their first shot on goal until there was only 3:23 remaining in the period. The Predators defense forced the Oilers to the outside and did not give them any quality chances.

When the Oilers did generate chances late in the period, Rinne was sharp. The save of the night came when Rinne made an outstanding glove save on a follow up shot by Tom Gilbert from the low slot.

The Predators outshot the Oilers 10-8 in the period, and most of the shots the Oilers created were with the extra attacker late in the period.

This was a big win for the Predators because this was a game they should have won and because the Oilers have vexed the Predators this season. These are the types of games that can be a mental test, but the Predators were equal to the task.

The level of competition is going to get tougher for the Predators with Anaheim, Dallas, and Vancouver coming to town in the next three games. There are areas that the Predators will need to improve upon, notably puck management. Nevertheless, this is a win the Predators can savor.

With the upcoming games and the tight playoff race, it is going to be important for the Predators to be focused, mentally tough, and physically ready to compete. This is a team that seems to have reclaimed their mojo, and they are going to have to bring it in the next three games.

Your fate is in your hands, boys. Seize the opportunity.

My three stars:

1. David Legwand

2. Martin Erat

3. Pekka Rinne

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